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Ornamental grasses offer great garden design

June 22, 2013

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Ornamental grasses are friendly neighbors. They happily co-exist with other types of plants, but they particularly love to be grouped in close proximity to their own kind.

If you learn to design with plant “communities,” you will more effectively arrange gardens with an eye toward the role plants play in the larger landscape rather than solely for their individual qualities. This is especially true with ornamental grasses.

While it is possible to utilize grasses as individual focal points or as a tall backdrop or central axis to smaller plants in a bed or border, planting a large grass grouping has more potential to become great garden design. Close up, grasses are beautiful. But when viewed as a group, they can be breathtaking.

Since ornamental grasses add texture and movement to gardens, they are quite striking when planted en masse. Ornamental grasses react to sunlight. A grass-filled bed is most effective when it undulates as a whole with the wind or is backlit by the sun. An expansive bed of grasses simply glows when lit by low morning or afternoon sun. This effect is intensified when light breezes blow. Few other plants have the ability to transform their appearance as much as grasses do when their plumes are hit by light and they are made to dance in the wind.

Ornamental grasses are very versatile and useful design elements. Unlike lawn grass, which is flat and motionless, these tall beauties may be utilized in many landscaping situations and for many purposes. In some gardens, they become a part of what is known as the backbone or foundation. In other words, they help create a long-lasting framework for the garden, such as marking boundaries or blocking unsightly views.

When paired with woody plants such as trees and shrubs, which remain present and contribute to the landscape year-round, grasses provide additional structure, color and interest. In a good design, woody plants benefit from the addition of grasses because their line, form and shape, as well as their continuous movement, keep the planting area from becoming too static or dull.

Grasses are available in many foliage and plume colors ranging from purple, red, blue and green to silver, tan and white. Plumes (seedheads) also vary in appearance. Texas sports a number of native beauties, such as Lindheimer muhly and big bluestem. Deciduous grass plantings fare best when heavily manicured in late winter after freezing weather has taken its toll. New growth emerges very quickly after trimming.

Resource: Designing with Grasses by Neil Lucas

For answers to horticulture questions, call Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County, 817-579-3280 and ask to speak to a Master Gardener or visit hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived